Monday Morning Critic – 1.25

On tap this week:
— My only thoughts on Balloon Boy and his ilk
— Thoughts on a new Spider-Man franchise
And slightly much more!

A funny thing happened on Facebook the other day. As I was glancing through, catching up on the day’s goings from my friends and family, and other people I know through various shenanigans (not all of them cheeky and fun), a good friend of mine from my alma matter decided to become a fan of something that cause a little bit of an argument.

Making people who collect welfare take drug tests before collecting, or something like that, was what he became a “fan” of right after he had an all-time high score in “Bedazzled” or whatever. Another friend commented afterwards, asking if he had to take a urine test to collect his check, thus spurring on the usual internet “debate” that quickly spiraled into the usual internet debate theatrics. Me, I chimed in that I thought they should have to do the Christmas Macarena as well. Not the regular Macarena, not the St. Patrick’s Day Macarena and certainly not the Quebec version of the Boxing Day Macarena. The god damn Christmas Macarena, and they should have to do it while dressed like dancers from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

I’ve seen enough crackheads rocking out because they haven’t had a fix in some time to know that 99 times out of 100 someone trying to beat a piss test is not going to be able to do the Christmas Macarena in rhythm with the shakes. And it gave me an awesome idea, especially considering the rampant stupidity that passes for pop culture and politics in this country.

I’ve even got a name for it: Kubryk’s Totally Awesome Punishment System for Clearly Stupid Behavior.

It’s a pretty simple system: creatively excessive punishment for acting stupid in a public forum. Not being stupid, mind you, as someone who isn’t very intelligent shouldn’t be punished because they’re not as blessed as Danny Cox in that area. But if you act really effing stupid, especially if you’re famous, you deserve to get punished creatively.

Like the guy whose family pulled off the “Balloon Boy” hoax. Instead of being fined and imprisoned, we ought to do something even better. Imprisonment any man can wait out if he’s strong enough, and you can always get more money, but instead of that we should let everyone who was within a mile of the balloon’s boy path get to kick that guy right in the gonads. Why?

Because every guy will do anything to get out of getting hit in the balls, that’s why. It might be the second lowest form of humor, right after Jack Black movies and right before fart jokes, but he’ll never EVER do anything like that again. And no one else will be “inspired” to do the same thing; I’d totally pretend one of my nephews was on a balloon to try and make money off it if all I had was a fine and some jail time at Club Fed (likely to be cut by 2/3 because of good behavior) to look forward to. You’re clinically retarded if you don’t think his parents aren’t going to be banking serious cash from this whole assorted affair. And in the whole risk-reward scenario, a little jail and a fine are nothing compared to the cash they’re going to eventually make from the slack-toothed yokels who will turn in to their reality show.

But if it involved me getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly? Hell no.

Confucius wrote about how society ought to be run so that people will be shamed into doing the right thing and I think we as a society have lost that aspect. I know I’m making his relatively complex sociopolitical system in way too easy terms, but shame is something we really have lost. So many people are clinging for their 15 minutes of fame that they’re willing to do anything and so I think we ought to even this out.

Like Larry Craig, the Congressman who was playing footsy in a Minnesota bathroom. Instead of a fine, or whatever he got for trying to hook up in an airport crapper, he should’ve been locked in a Birmingham, Alabama, gas station restroom that hasn’t been cleaned for a week. Give him an hour or two and the sucker would never repeat the behavior again.

Prisons ought to be for the violent offenders, the murderers and rapists of the world who need to be removed from society. There ought to be a place for the con artists, et al, who deserve the time as well in that very prison. But for anyone who does something that’s illegal but stupid, punishment shouldn’t veer into the cruel and unusual.

It ought to be hilarious. And painful enough to prevent others from repeating it in vain attempts at money, fame or anything else grandiose. But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thought of the Week

With the official word that Marc Webb of (500) Days of Summer fame taking over the Spider-Man franchise/reboot, it’s time that we get serious about looking at what’ll happen to the webslinger and his pals this time around. The one thing that bothers me is that they’ll be going back to Peter Parker’s roots as a high school student / superhero. Don’t get me wrong, the prospect of a new Spider-man has fertile ground to explore with a new director like Webb, but when rebooting a superhero franchise Sony is ignoring a huge factor that will probably doom it: Freshness.

Listen to me now and believe me later.

The key to rebooting a franchise with a signature character(s) that has been established over the years is to give a new perspective on it. We’ve seen Peter Parker already as a high school student, and then through college, as he tries to deal with the demands of being a super-powered, costumed vigilante and a “normal life” as well. Every cartoon about the guy, large portions of the comic book series, et al, established this pattern. The original trilogy, as it’ll probably be known due to precedent from vernacular involving the original Star Wars trilogy and the newer trilogy, also explored this in the very first film.

It’s not exactly new territory, and even Webb’s whimsical style won’t be enough to avoid direct comparisons to the original film. At best he’ll improve on the framework Sam Raimi crafted, at worst he’ll make a cheap knockoff that’ll be just successful enough that it’ll prevent him from going back and making another (500) Days for a while.

Which is why probably the best way to adapt Spider-Man would be (in my own humble opinion) to place him in his early to mid 30s, jaded from years of being a hero with nothing to show for it. MJ has left him for someone who isn’t a crime-fighter; he’s vilified by the press despite saving the city from crooks and robbers on a daily basis. This is Spidey on the brink and it could revolve around a meditation on the nature of heroism, how doing the right thing and the popular thing is rarely one and the same.

We don’t need another origin story, nor is one required. Not that it would be necessarily be any good by going for the fresh take, but the point remains: an entirely new take on anything needs to be done for the long term. Webb brought a great take to the romantic comedy, about being screwed over by a hose-beast with a nice butt because Joseph Gordon-Leavitt doesn’t quite make her nether regions quake like a new guy, and I think if he was given free reign to do something new with the web crawler I don’t have a doubt it’d be interesting. But for a film with this budget, it’s not really his film. Nor will it ever be, and of all people Kevin Smith ought to be listened to for this.

Smith in one of his “Evening with….” deals made a great point that stuck with me; on a film this size it’ll never be truly his movie. There are so many cooks in the kitchen that the primary cook will eventually get marginalized. It’s easy to make a small personal picture because the risk isn’t nearly as big as a $100 million plus tent-pole. It’s why he bowed out of The Green Hornet way back when; it wasn’t going to be his film, it was going to be a studio film that he just directed. You can make Chasing Amy and have something deep to say because the budget was small and no one is expecting the film to clear $300 million domestically in both box office tickets and merchandise. So no matter what Webb wants to do with the film, ultimately he’s a director for hire at this point.

More to the point, a fresh take has invigorated several franchises. And the same old has nearly killed others. The last five years or so have given us a number of reboots of franchises, some several decades old, so it’s critical to look at some of the best (and worst) of them to see what worked and what didn’t:

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The Hero: Bond. James Bond.

For over 20 films, and 40 years, Ian Fleming’s signature character was played by a handful of actors channeling one thing: the dashing spy. Bond was always someone in their 40s, an experienced and lethal spy who had grown into the role over the years. Whether it was Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, James Bond is always the distinguished gentleman and the veteran hand that saved the day. The essence of the Bond franchise, when you strip away the gadgets and general craziness, is about Bond the experienced hand who has plenty of tricks up his sleeve after all these years.

How’d they reboot it? In Casino Royale and thereafter, we are given Bond as the young MI-6 operative. Given his license to kill, Bond is the broadsword trying to be a scalpel with mixed results.

Did it succeed? Significantly so. The best grossing film of the series, Casino Royale rebooted the franchise in one of the better films of the decade. Pulling off the rare fourth act of story-telling, it gave a new perspective on Bond.

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The Hero: The man about truth, justice and the American way: Superman

The first truly epic superhero, the Last Son of Krypton has been around long enough to truly be an American icon. Kind of funny considering he’s an illegal immigrant and all, as Krypton’s embassy probably didn’t process his father’s H1 Visa quickly enough. With the planet exploding and all, I can see why the immigration offices of Krypton were a bit slow in getting his paperwork together. Hence the crash landing in Kansas and all, I suppose.

All jokes aside, Superman was a star-making vehicle for Christopher Reeves in the 1970s and ‘80s, as the role typecast him as the “Man of Steel” for the rest of his career. Superman is the ideal of Americana; from a small town, living in the big city, he keeps the world (and Metropolis) safe from those who would do it harm.

How’d they reboot it? In Superman Returns, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns from trying to find survivors of Krypton to a world that’s moved on without him. Returning, he has to save the world from Lex Luthor (again).

Did it succeed? The film got mixed reviews across the board. I hated it and joined a good friend (and his girlfriend) in being the guy at the back of the theatre who made snide comments throughout. We weren’t alone, though, as 2/3 of the audience was mocking the film outright. But then again got love from a lot of other critics, and audiences did seem to enjoy it en masse as it was a big earner.

The problem is that the film didn’t get anywhere near expectations and a sequel to it was scrapped, as Warner Brothers is now trying to reboot the franchise AGAIN. So you can’t really call this a success because it didn’t resuscitate it; it made for tinges of brilliance and big box office numbers but the studio is back to the drawing boards.

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The Hero: The Dark Knight himself, Batman

Another icon of Americiana, Batman provided balance to Superman. Whereas the man from Metropolis was invincible, could fly, et al, Batman was the personification of personal excellence. Using his intellect and a body well-honed in hand to hand combat (and in the peak of physical condition), Batman solved crimes like a detective.

The original series gave us Batman the detective, honed from years of vigilante justice, as his war on crime took on various criminals. Batman, presented first by Tim Burton and them Joel Schumacher, was akin to Bond in a way. He was the veteran who knew what he was doing and had been doing so for many years.

How’d they reboot it? In Batman Begins, we are introduced to the young Bruce Wayne. Witnessing his parents murder, he wanders the world until he comes into the hands of a wise master (Liam Neeson) who at first shares similar goals. Discovering his methods are a bit more extreme, Wayne returns to his home of Gotham City to fight crime. Donning a cape and cowl, we get to see Batman’s formative years as a costumed crime-fighter as he takes on the mob. This is Batman as a young man, developing his style and learning his craft.

The interesting thing is that Christopher Nolan took the pretext of the comic book film and crafted it into a crime film featuring costumed heroes.

Did it succeed? A big hit, the film made a household name out of the relatively unknown Nolan and gave Christian Bale the sort of status his acting abilities deserved. With a sequel greenlit quickly, Nolan took his time and (inspired by crime classics Chinatown and HEAT), crafted the greatest comic book film of them all as a follow up: The Dark Knight.

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The Hero: The big green smashing machine, The Incredible Hulk

Born out an experiment gone wrong, Bruce Banner turns into a gigantic green monster that likes to smash stuff up whenever he gets angry. A longtime comic book fan favorite, the character was the focus of a smash ‘70s television show that made bodybuilding champion Lou Ferrigno a household name.

Brought to the screen by Ang Lee as a meditation about the nature of heroism in Hulk, the film was a success but not quite the success it was expected. People were expecting a film about the Hulk smashing stuff and got a quiet film with moments of grandiose action.

How’d they reboot it? Replacing Eric Bana with Ed Norton, amongst others, The Incredible Hulk followed Bruce Banner on the run from the military, trying to find a cure for his condition. It’s a sequel, sort of; with an origin retold in flashback, the film was a launch of the franchise into an action film instead of a complex story about a hero.

Did it succeed? At this point, no one is sure where the franchise will be headed. With a rush to get a handful of Marvel heroes together for an Avengers film, another Hulk film seems to be on the backburner as Thor, Captain America and the continuing Iron Man saga are on the forefront. Plus there is the feeling that Ed Norton might not return to the role of Bruce Banner, either, further complicating things. The film did have a good box office performance, though, so a mixed result would be the best you could call it.

When you look at it, the key to a successful reboot of a franchise is to frame it differently, to give it a different perspective. My fear is that Sony will want more of the same, just with a different director and actor for three more film before it gets rebooted AGAIN.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Edge of Darkness – Someone killed Mel Gibson’s daughter. He’s going to kill them all.

See it – He might be an anti-Semite, but he did Braveheart and Lethal Weapon. That’s enough for me to forgive him and pay to see his flick.

When in Rome – Kristen Bell gets her perfunctory rom-com.

Skip it – There’s nothing about this that looks original or interesting.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at Kubryk@Insidepulse.com and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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